University ready to move into Swindon's Carriageworks

By Ben Fitzgerald - 7 February 2019

CommunityCollege & Higher Education

Swindon's Carriageworks to become home to Royal Agricultural University's cultural heritage training hub.

Plans for the hub were launched by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) last year in response to the national skills gap in archaeology, and a demand from businesses in the South West of England for CPD courses such as heritage management.

Royal Agricultural University (RAU) joined UWTSD as a local partner in early 2018 but now leads the delivery of the hub to be known as the Cultural Heritage Institute. UWTSD continue to be involved and will be an active participant in the provision of learning programmes.

The Cultural Heritage Institute will be based in a unit within the Swindon Borough Council-owned Great Western Railway (GWR) Carriage Works. RAU and the council have completed a legally binding agreement for RAU to take out a 20-year lease within the Carriage Works following the completion of Council-funded refurbishment works.

The conversion of the Carriage Works, designed by Metropolitan Workshop, will insert a standalone structure into Unit 11 of the West Shed – creating offices, seminar rooms, a library and lecture space over two floors. 

The new academic offer will contribute to the Council’s ambition to increase the supply of higher education options available to Swindon residents. Although RAU’s initial offer will focus on a highly specialised range of courses, there is potential for the university’s presence to grow over time.

The Cultural Heritage Institute will start to deliver courses from September this year. Construction works to create the Institute’s Swindon-based premises will start, subject to planning permission, and will provide students with first-hand insight into the complexities of heritage-led regeneration.

The redevelopment of the Carriage Works builds on the Council’s commitment to finding sustainable uses for its heritage sites. The Council completed a first phase of redevelopment last year to provide new flexible office space for small businesses – a facility now known as WorkShed. The works planned for the Cultural Heritage Institute form part of a second phase of redevelopment that will also create additional office space and ancillary uses.

Dr Lucy Meredith, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the Royal Agricultural University, said: “We’re delighted to be working so closely with Swindon Borough Council on this exciting project. The transformation of the Carriage Works to a higher education learning hub will provide much easier access to a range of specialist courses from the University, in important areas such as archaeology and heritage management – subjects that are vital to our understanding and management of the environment we live in.”

Dr Geraint Coles, who recently joined the RAU team as Director of the Cultural Heritage Institute, commented: “This project will provide students with first-hand insight into heritage-led regeneration and the complexities involved. With a goal to deliver courses starting in September 2019, this is an exciting project and one that I believe is essential if the UK is to remain a leader in global heritage management.”

Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, said: “I warmly welcome Royal Agricultural University’s commitment to Swindon and the faith shown in the Council’s vision for the regeneration of the Carriage Works.

“The Carriage Works is one of the Council’s key regeneration projects and the building, which is steeped in the town’s railway heritage, has been transformed over the past 12 months.

“The WorkShed scheme has been widely praised for its quality and demonstrated the potential for the wider site. The Cultural Heritage Institute will provide yet further impetus to investment in the Council-owned heritage building.”

Councillor Oliver Donachie, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Prosperity, said: “I am delighted to welcome RAU to Swindon. The University provides a real opportunity to meet the needs of the cultural sector and supports our commitment to work with a number of stakeholders to increase our higher education provision in Swindon.

“This has seen Oxford Brookes expand its presence in Swindon, a growth in Higher Education courses provided by both Swindon College and New College and our continued support of the Institute of Technology bid.”

Swindon Borough Council invested £2.385m to refurbish Units 3 and 5 of the West Shed. The completed office development is now operated as WorkShed, on behalf of SBC, by The Enterprise Network (part of Wiltshire Council). 

In late 2017 the Council’s Cabinet approved £3.6m to refurbish additional space, including to support the creation of a new higher education institute in Unit 11.

The council completed a land swap deal with Network Rail in May 2018 and now owns the entire Carriage Works Estate and adjacent Bristol Street car park. This means the Council can steer further regeneration and ensure a financial return on its investments over the long term.

Council officials have submitted a planning application, which will be publicly available following validation. The planning application includes proposals for the Cultural Heritage Institute (Unit 11) and wider development area. Construction will start subject to planning approval and listed building consent.

The Royal Agricultural University (RAU) has been at the forefront of agricultural education and a key contributor to the land-based sector for more than 170 years.

Today, the RAU has approximately 1,200 students studying agriculture, animal science, business, environment, equine science, farm management, food, real estate and rural land management.

The University, which is based in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, prides itself on its links with industry and all courses are designed to meet the demands of the employment market for land-based expertise, both in the UK and worldwide. The RAU offers scholarships, awards and bursaries to enable students to achieve their full potential.

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